Sawyer? Gibson? Westin's Dilemma Heats Up

The tough task of selecting a replacement for the late Peter Jennings as the anchor of ABC's World News Tonight— difficult in any circumstances—may be getting even harder for ABC News President David Westin.

Insiders at the network are buzzing over Diane Sawyer's apparent interest in the blue-chip slot. Word is that the Good Morning America co-host began contemplating an evening-anchor role for herself when news surfaced late last year that CBS boss Leslie Moonves had made overtures to NBC's Katie Couric about the CBS Evening News gig (see B&C, 12/12/04). After Jennings unexpectedly relinquished the World News position last spring and it became apparent that he would not return, factions at the network began promoting Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas for the anchor job; neither of those two have Sawyer's star patina, and observers began detecting that she had started campaigning for the job.

VP, ABC News Communications, Jeffrey Schneider said Sawyer was not a candidate for the job. Saying he had talked to both ABC News President David Westin and Sawyer, Schneider said: "Diane Sawyer has never asked to come off Good Morning America. She is not a candidate to host World News Tonight.
As you can imagine in a post-Peter Jennings world, everybody has been asked to step up and help out in other areas. We are talking to Diane about doing documentaries and other events," he said.

Sawyer's recent insistence on doing fewer celebrity interviews—unless she's talking to bona fide A-list personalities—and on doing more hard-news material was interpreted by network tea-leaf readers as a sign that Sawyer was positioning herself for the World News job.

All this, of course, could put her at odds with her able GMA co-host Charlie Gibson, who has made no secret of his desire to take the World News reins, where he has been alternating, most often with Vargas, in the anchor chair.

One scenario being touted outside ABC's walls: If Gibson is passed over for the World News job, he might be open to an overture from Fox Broadcasting once his contract comes up for renewal, reportedly next year. Fox brass have recently been floating the idea of launching a national newscast; someone of Gibson's stature would give instant credibility to the project.

Some ABC insiders note glumly that, by rights, this should be a time of excitement and backslapping at GMA, which after a long, hard slog is seriously challenging the dominance of NBC's Today. Instead, GMA is rife with uncertainty about who, other than co-host Robin Roberts, will still be with the show in the none-too-distant future.

As one ABC insider tells Flash!: Westin, a close ally of Sawyer's, “is going to have to play King Solomon.”

IFC Masters Its Domain

Last week, the Independent Film Channel announced that its online store is open for business, selling DVDs, IFC merch and other indie-oriented paraphernalia. At last, they must have been thinking over at ifc.com, we can get this baby to start bringing some cash. The network has only been in possession of that domain name since this summer, when it finally persuaded United Technologies to surrender the online namesake of the company's International Fuel Cells division. Previously, the indie channel had been stuck with ifctv.com—not the first thing a potential visitor would type into a browser.

“Not owning our birthright, ifc.com, bothered me,” says IFC Executive VP/General Manager Evan Shapiro.

IFC paid United Technologies $25,000 for the domain name, but Shapiro says UT, while willing to relinquish it, was more interested in being reassured that IFC would run a classy, porn-free site. IFC relaunched its site in July; traffic is up 49%.

A Vine Humor

“Roasts” of corporate big shots can turn out to be gentle sautéings, as their underlings often reveal how hard it is to do standup. But at the Center for Communications' lunchtime affair for Time Warner Chairman Dick Parsons at the Pierre hotel in New York on Oct. 20, the room was roaring at some of the material delivered by Time Inc. Editorial Director John Huey, TW Entertainment & Networks Group Chairman Jeffrey Bewkes and others.

Sharp-eyed attendees noted the presence of Mark Katz, in-house White House humor writer during the Clinton years. Regardless of who wrote the gags at the Parsons fete, Bewkes got the biggest laughs with riffs like this: “2002 was Dick's first year as CEO. As it happens, it was also the year he purchased a vineyard in Tuscany ... You know, Jerry Levin also bought a vineyard. The New York Times wrote that Jerry and Steve Case sealed the AOL merger on a bottle of Chateau LaTour '82. And God only knows what they were drinking in the days before that ... I was worried at the time that Jerry might have gotten in a little over his head. I asked him what grape he was growing. He said, 'Red.'”